This week Bill Wong @BillWongOT his hosting this is what he has to say.
When I started occupational therapy school in 2009, my instructors thought I would be a researcher because of my statistics background. They thought I could be a great person to consult for in developing powerful quantitative evidence based assessments. They thought I could be a great scientist our profession need badly. Little did my former instructors know, I contributed in our profession in other ways even though I just started in academia earlier in 2019.
During my student days, I was not too confident in my clinical abilities. My expertise in autism was still developing. After I had great confidence that I would pass my first placement towards my license in California, I applied to attend the clinical doctorate program at University of Southern California (USC). During the second placement a few months later, I found out that I was conditionally accepted to the program. As I became confident that I would pass that placement, I started reading about past capstone projects on the department’s website. The idea that quickly jumped to my mind was by one of my former instructors- as she developed a course for her capstone project. Then, I asked my network of peers who went through the same program recently. I found out that my preceptor (aka project consultant) can provide remote supervision would only need to supervise me on an as needed basis. Thus, it became a slam-dunk decision for me to do my capstone project on an autism course.
When I met USC OT department’s faculty to verify what I have learned and proposed my initial idea, the department gave me the approval for the course development as a capstone project. As a condition for the academic year, I must acquire teaching experience and read at least 20 related books on autism- notably autobiographies. I was elated because it was a project that would be meaningful to me while increasing my likelihood to successfully complete the clinical doctorate degree. I ended up finding @OTSalfordUni as my preceptor after consulting the #otalk crew 7 years ago.
In 2012, one of my biggest hurdles was public speaking. I had bouts of struggles with doing presentations for OT school. I remembered I told myself, “I need to be good at something. If I want to go far with autism in OT, I must be at least adequate in public speaking. Sure, I can write awesome courses on paper. But, I will stunt my potential if I can’t deliver.
Over the years, I submitted to various OT conferences to build up my confidence. I reflected on my performance of each experience. Over time, my confidence improved. My TEDx Talk at TEDxGrandForks in 2015 was a key building block for my confidence because I could deliver speeches under immense pressure. My TEDx Talk at TEDxYouth@AlamitosBay in 2017 was another building block because it was my first time I had any courage to publicly speak about subjects other than my go-to OT topics in such a high stakes environment.
In late 2018, I decided to apply for a couple faculty positions around Los Angeles OT and OT assistant programs. I was rejected by a masters of OT program. However, I was invited to interview for an OT assistant program. Given that I am autistic, I knew it is important to be as prepared as possible for my interview. Fortunately, I was able to ace the interview even though it was unexpectedly rescheduled.
Going into this “slow transition” for almost a year now, I have observed a few things.
1. When you guest lecture, you do your lecture and move on. However, when you formally have a class of students for at least one academic term, you need to put them in positions to succeed in the classroom and out in the field.
2. You must learn your institution and department’s academic policies. You must also be aware of rights of students who might require reasonable accommodations. Since I am in the United States, this means I must be aware of Americans with Disabilities Act.
3. If teaching is your secondary job, you must find ways to have it co-exist with your primary job. You need to maintain constant communication with your primary job’s employer regarding teaching schedule.
4. If you are unfamiliar with a prospective uni that you are interested in teaching, taking placement students from that uni can be wonderful opportunities to get more insights to the uni’s courses and culture.
5. Teaching is a small world! News can spread within a department quickly! 2 days after my interview at Stanbridge University’s Los Angeles campus, the placement coordinator from its Irvine campus was aware that I interviewed for an adjunct faculty position! Then, when I went to my first day of orientation at the Irvine campus, I recognized half of the OT faculty from the university because I met them at various conferences over the years!
6. Before I started teaching, @shawnPhippsPhD gave me this advice, “You may have to teach something in a subject that you might be uncomfortable with.” This advice couldn’t ring more true with my teaching assignment this year. To be honest, physical disabilities is one of my worst subjects in OT school. To teach a lab course on this is actually quite a challenge!
7. It has been quite a learning experience for me to grade students! Consistent and fair are qualities students are looking for. Out of the 3 practicals I graded so far, I have 2-4 students requesting me to adjust their grades due to inconsistencies. While I strived for no more of such instances, at least my students appreciated that I try my best to strive to be consistent.
8. It is important to keep professional boundaries between you and your students on social media, as eluded in previous #otalk discussions. I allow my students to follow me on Instagram because the school’s student organization (aka OT society) has an account.
On my final note before my questions, I have come to appreciate my former instructors a lot more. It is not as easy to teach OT subjects as it seems. Academia is more than just teaching a course or understanding university policies, it is also important in building rapport with students and fellow faculty.
Now, here are my questions for everyone-
1. Are you a student or a practitioner? Are you in academia right now?
2. If you are in academia now, what led you to be interested in it? What are some common myths associated with academia?
3. If you are not in academia now, what led you to be away from it? If there are things that could entice you to work in academia in the future, what are they?
4. What are some tips for either practitioners transitioning to academia, or students preparing for their futures in academia?